Friday, February 24, 2006

The Obligatory Hacker Culture Post

Ok, so I'm predictible.

As someone who discovered computers just about the time the idea of the PC was reaching the market, I'm one of those who has been fully immersed in the hacking culture. I never was as hardcore as the guys who wardialed the Pentagon, or build my own computer from NAND gates, but I got my PC as soon as I got out of college, and have been programming in some form for almost 30 years.

For me, the defining hacker trait is curiousity. You want to know how something works, or want to build one for yourself. It manifests most strongly in computers, I think, because software is so malleable that once you've bought the computer and get a compiler/interpreter, you can make nearly anything. In contrast, electrical engineering hacking requires you to buy parts, which limits your work. It's also much easier to prototype in software than in hardware, and you almost never blow up parts in the testing.

At the present time, it's a sad truth that the US is drifting away from the hacking spirit. The advent of offshoring has made software a precarious career, and colleges are starting to move their curricula away from the fundamentals of software. So many of our products are packaged so that there are no repairable parts in them. But a few rays of hope are shining - Make is publicizing hacks, and the very flood of disposable technology is spurring hackers to try things, since they are so cheap to buy.

I hope the trend picks up speed. I'm looking forward to some of the cool things lurking around in people's skulls.

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